Jessica Backhaus’ second solo exhibition in Portugal features pieces from three new series: Confinement in Berlin, Far Away but Close and Cut Outs.
In “Dialogue on the New Plastic” (originally published in De Stijl, Leiden, February and March 1919), Piet Mondrian describes his earlier works as an attempt to “express relationships plastically through oppositions of colour and line”, thus allowing “colour and line to speak for themselves”. According to the artist, “the emotion of beauty is cosmic, is universal”. Even though Mondrian’s paintings may suggest a near-aseptic approach and a path of thorough purification towards reality, they nonetheless belong in the realm of spirituality and expressiveness, being emotion-driven. Hence, even though the reference to Mondrian may appear to conflict with the poetic naturalness of Jessica Backhaus’ works, the compositions of both artists are marked by a reduction to a minimum that causes their works to generate an intense energy through the dynamics of simple things. Just like Mondrian, Backhaus preserves the deepest emotions of the visual elements: light, shadow, colour and volume, expressing them and giving them a new condition. She amplifies a microcosm to extract from it a universe of details and sensorial experiences, capturing the corporeality of objects in constant change, isolating and revealing the language of visuality.
Created during a time in which we all were forced to live time at a different speed, the Confinement in Berlin series focuses on the notion of quietness as an active stance. Taking as her starting-point a quote from Joseph Beuys: “Wer nicht denken will fliegt raus” (Who is unwilling to think is dismissed), the artist demonstrates how art can be a platform that conceives and reorganises a changing world, being a means of adaptation and survival. Some of these works draw direct inspiration from such Beuys pieces as The Capri Battery (1985), Das Erdtelefon (1967) and The Fat Chair (1963).
Far Away but Close, a work that was created by the artist during several stays in Chile over the past seven years, is a photographic essay in which affections determine the trajectory of a search for places and memories. Here, the importance of experience is conveyed through a sensorial approach that causes experience to remain particularly vivid in these images.
In the Cut Outs series, which was developed over the past three years as a continuation of the collage experiments carried out in Trilogy, New Horizon, Jessica Backhaus explores the expressive power of motion. Cut Outs deals with a pictorially reduced reality, whose elements volatilise themselves into pure motion, unleashing a wave of vibration through saturated shadows and colours. For that purpose, the artist organised and staged compositions where cut-outs of transparent paper react to the heat of intense sunlight, which distorts and casts shadows, a phenomenon that is then conveyed to the viewer. Just like a scientist dissecting reality through her microscope, the artist observes without intervening, describing the activity of the paper through her camera lens. The light and the paper react as though in a dialogue, confined in a discourse and reality of their own, removed from the world at large. In Cut Outs, Jessica Backhaus definitely embraces a path towards abstraction, using collage as a means to combine colours and exploring visuality in a completely staged experiment. Her use of cut-outs reflects both a commitment to drawing and an inventiveness that manifests now in staging, through sculpture, now in the formal exploration of visual elements, through painting, now in the realm of pure photographic recording, or perhaps in a hybridisation of all these forms.
Born in Cuxhaven, Germany, in 1970, and raised in an artistic family, Jessica Backhaus is regarded as one of the most distinguished voices in contemporary photography in Germany today. Her work has been shown in numerous solo and group exhibitions, including the National Portrait Gallery, London, the Martin-Gropius-Bau, Berlin and the Kunsthalle Erfurt. To date, she has ten publications to her name; Jesus and the Cherries, 2005, What Still Remains, 2008, One Day in November, 2008, I Wanted to See the World, 2010, ONE DAY- 10 photographers, 2010, Once, still and forever, 2012, Six degrees of freedom, 2015, A TRILOGY, 2017, Far away but Close, 2019 and Cut Outs, 2021, all published by Kehrer Verlag, Heidelberg/ Berlin, except Far Away but Close which is published by Another Place Press, Scotland. Her work is also featured in the book: Women Photographers by Boris Friedewald (Prestel Verlag 2014).
From her large number of solo and group show we highlight the ones that took place in National Portrait Gallery, London, Goethe Institut, Paris, France, Arles, France Centrum Kultury Zamek, Poznan, Poland, Martin-Gropius-Bau, Berlin, Kunsthalle Erfurt, Germany, Deutsche Börse Photography Foundation, Germany, Midland Art Centre, Birmingham andScottish National Portrait Gallery.
Jessica Backhaus’ works are in many prominent art collections including Art Collection Deutsche Börse, Germany, ING Art Collection, Belgium, Collection of the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, USA and the Margulies Collection, Miami, USA. In 2012 FOAM Fotografiemuseum, Amsterdam produced a short documentary “Wonder Jessica Backhaus”, a film by Willem Aerts.